Friday, November 09, 2007

Australian public hospital kills baby

By way of the usual short-staffing

A mother who accidentally suffocated her newborn baby says she will consider suing a Brisbane hospital after a coroner found nurses failed to follow guidelines. Baby Arisa was less than a day old when her lifeless body was found in mother Yumiko Huber's bed at the Mater Mothers' Hospital in South Brisbane on August 17, 2005. She was revived but was found to be brain dead and died the next day when she was taken off life support.

A report by Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements - made public today - found the first-time mother had been exhausted after a difficult birth, on pain relief medication and antibiotics, and had a fever when she was left breastfeeding her daughter at about 5am. It found staff had left the pair for one hour and 45 minutes before discovering the child and her sleeping mother - contrary to hospital guidelines which required checks on mothers breastfeeding in bed every 15 to 30 minutes. "The evidence was also clear that no specific warning was given to the mother before the baby was placed with her for breastfeeding in bed," the report said.

The report said the midwife should have advised Ms Huber to take care and call for assistance if she or the baby became sleepy.

The parents were too upset to speak today, but a statement released by the father, Philip Huber, was highly critical of the hospital and its nurses, who he blamed directly for his daughter's death. The couple's lawyer Sarah Yellop today said they were considering legal action against the hospital and the two nurses who were on shift that night. "That's something that we've got to consider and, obviously, they are giving some thought too," Ms Yellop told reporters. "Given the findings of the inquest, I'd consider that there would be very strong grounds for compensation claims." But, she said, it was too early to comment on how much compensation might be sought.

The coroner's report recommended better training for nurses and more education for new mothers, especially involving the dangers of having the baby in bed with them. The report also noted "extremely heavy" workloads for nurses and low staffing levels which led to shortcuts being taken.

A statement from the hospital today said the report's recommendations had already been implemented. "Mater Health Services continues to express its deepest sympathies to the Huber family," it said. "Immediately after the death of Arisa Huber, Mater reviewed its policies and procedures in the Mater Mothers' Hospital. "Since the tragic event occurred two years ago, the recommendations made by the coroner in the report have already been implemented by the Mater." The changes included a new education program for staff and patients. [New policies? What about implementing the old ones?]


Australia: Ambulance disaster just waiting to happen

A trainee paramedic who worked virtually 36 hours straight this week is so tired driving her ambulance she sees "little monsters" on the road in front of the vehicle. Stanthorpe ambulance officer Julie Clark blames the marathon shift at the Granite Belt station on chronic understaffing with paramedics regularly working 20 hours straight. Her stint - from 8am on Monday to 8pm on Tuesday - included two quick power naps, two return trips to Warwick and an eight-hour return drive to Brisbane with patients. "Lives are at risk because of this," Ms Clark told The Courier-Mail last night. "I have been so tired I have seen little monsters running all over the road."

The revelations are another embarrassment for the Bligh Government as it investigates why record funding for the Queensland Ambulance Service is resulting in worsening service [The experience of governmenrt medical services worldwide]. The QAS yesterday offered Ms Clark, 43, a transfer to a quieter station after her frustrated partner blew the whistle about the problems and forced the QAS to let her talk.

But Ms Clark insisted a transfer would not solve the problems as eight staff regularly worked 20-hour shifts as their "on-call" time became rush hour. "We love our jobs and we do get overtime but this just isn't safe for me or the patients," said the paramedic of 18 months. "By the time I came home, I was dizzy from very little sleep and I wasn't safe to drive especially long distances, or do my job. "I told the Assistant Commissioner I want to stay here but we just need more staff. That's the problem."

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts has requested a report of the situation with rosters over the past five days being checked. A QAS spokesman admitted the station had experienced extraordinary conditions with "a spate of serious, potentially life-threatening incidents in the Stanthorpe area this week". "A dedicated ambulance officer at the Stanthorpe station was called to attend a number of these incidents while rostered on for emergency availability at the time of these incidents," the QAS spokesman said.

But the statements were met with anger from the Ambulance Employees Australia Union and the State Opposition, which both demanded an independent inquiry into the service. Coalition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the understaffing was typical of a system in crisis right across Queensland. "She was a danger not only to the patients she was treating but to herself and (this) goes well beyond any workplace health and safety guidelines," Mr Malone said. AEAU secretary Steve Crow said the problem was associated with busy regional stations that had inadequate staff. "Surely there is a way to look after the patients better by actually looking after the paramedics," Mr Crow said


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